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The Death Penalty

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Essay title: The Death Penalty

THE DEATH PENALTY

• Britain influenced America’s use of the death penalty more than any other country. When European settlers came to the new world, they brought with them the practice of capital punishment.

• The first recorded execution in the new colonies was that of Captain George Kendall in the Jamestown colony of Virginia in 1608. Kendall was executed for being a spy for Spain.

• The United States ranks number 4 in the world when looking at the number of executions it performs each year (ranked above it are China, Iran, and Vietnam).

• In the United States, the issue of capital punishment is largely left up to the individual states; the federal government reserves the right to perform executions, but does so extremely infrequently. Twelve states have legally abolished the death penalty.

• Persons who are mentally retarded are described as having "significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period." To be classified as mentally retarded, a person generally must have an IQ of 70 or below.

• Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the states have executed 35 mentally retarded men

• Some people claim that between one-tenth and one-fifth of all people on Death Row are retarded (approximately 200 to 300 people).

• In Penry v. Lynaugh (492 U.S. 584 (1989)), in a 5-4 decision, the Court held that executing persons with mental retardation was not a violation of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits the use of cruel or unusual punishment. Mental retardation should instead be a mitigating factor to be considered by the jury during sentencing. Writing for the majority, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that a "national consensus" had not developed against executing those with mental retardation. At the time, only two states, Maryland and Georgia, prohibited such executions.

o The defendant was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in a Texas state prison.

o He was found competent to stand trial, although a psychologist testified that he was mildly to moderately retarded and had the mental age of a 6 1/2 -year-old.

• However, in 2002 in Atkins v. Virginia,

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